Shatrughan, not Ram, for VHP
Thanks, Thakurs & ISI
Mumbai has a blast
Atta’s student visa approved 6 months after September 11
Calcutta Weather

 
 
SHATRUGHAN, NOT RAM, FOR VHP 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Ayodhya, March 15: 

Atal emissary accepts shilas

Paramhans did not kill himself. Atal Bihari Vajpayee did not have to arrest him or kar sevaks. Two shilas were handed over and a puja was performed. The Supreme Court’s order was not violated.

Sighs of relief were emitted all over the country, the loudest in the Prime Minister’s Office. The VHP had saved Vajpayee and the Prime Minister saved the Parishad’s face by despatching his emissary, Shatrughan Singh, to accept the shilas from Ramchandra Das Paramhans.

The VHP interpreted the concession as an indication of the government’s acknowledgement of the “principle” of constructing a Ram temple at the disputed site. And the Opposition, Mulayam Singh, in particular, sighted the BJP’s “hidden agenda” in a Central official accepting the donation of shilas.

Vajpayee did not appear to be in a hurry to either confirm or dispel the notion of either side.

Everyone went home happy. Or did they?

Humko bewakoof bana diya, paisa khagay kya? (You made fools of us, have you been bribed?)” shouted Ram Balak Das, a sadhu. His target: Ashok Singhal, the VHP working president who has been at Paramhans’ side all through.

At the appointed hour of 2.15 pm, Paramhans, who heads the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas, left the temple workshop. The two 5x1 ft stone slabs — covered with VHP flags, decorated with flowers and surrounded by earthen lamps — were carried in two carts pulled by over a dozen priests.

Some 1,000 kar sevaks cheered and goaded Paramhans and Singhal to take them to the Ramjanmabhoomi area and perform a shila daan and puja. The administration appeared to play ball until the bewildered kar sevaks were herded inside the Digambar akhada, barely 400 metres from the workshop and a long way away from the government-acquired land.

Even as the Jai Sri Ram-chanting kar sevaks were trying to figure out what had happened, Singhal and Paramhans announced that the shila daan and the puja would be held at the Digambar akhada, the seat of Paramhans.

Perched precariously over the hood of his car, Singhal faced a volley of abuses from enraged sadhus and kar sevaks. A sadhu, who refused to be silenced by either Paramhans or the security officers, said: “You have sullied the reputation of sadhus. All of you are thieves, worthless people. We want (Ram) mandir.”

He got Shatrughan instead. The leaders hurriedly handed over first one shila and then a second under pressure from the gathering to the official who heads the Ayodhya cell in the Cabinet secretariat and had been sent by Vajpayee as part of a deal to dissuade Paramhans and the VHP from forcing a confrontation. A quick puja followed.

“We have made the shila daan and performed the puja,” Paramhans hollered. “We have not failed.”

But the crowd got restless. Vinay Katiyar, BJP MP from Faizabad, whispered into Singhal’s ear to announce that the Centre was looking into the demand for handing back the acquired land at the disputed site and that the temple would be built.

A little later, Paramhans, Singhal, Katiyar and VHP leader Rajendra Singh Pankaj took a few followers with them and slinked out through the backdoor of the akhada. A minor fracas broke out between police and some 50 kar sevaks as they tried to break the cordon and see what Paramhans was up to.

The mahant and 15 other religious leaders were taken in government vehicles to the makeshift Ram temple at the disputed site for darshan.

Paramhans returned at 5.45 pm to announce that his mission had been accomplished. “The government has bowed before our wishes,” he said, declaring it a “people’s victory”.

“I went like a warrior, I take back my threat to die.”

Asked who was the victor in this game that few of his followers and sadhus understood, Paramhans said: “Neither I nor Atal has won. It is a victory for Ram Lalla.”

The March 15 programme ended in this happy ambiguity.

Katiyar, however, acknowledged that “things had gone wrong”. He refused to comment if the shilas would be taken to the disputed site, as demanded by the VHP. “We will try to rectify the situation,” he said.

The two shilas are in the custody of the district administration and have been kept outside the acquired land.

   

 
 
THANKS, THAKURS & ISI 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, March 15: 
In the end, it was a combination of caste and “ISI” that apparently saved the day for the Vajpayee government.

BJP sources said the government, which went into a spin after Ramchandra Das Paramhans went public with his suicide intent yesterday, felt that rather than arrest him and risk a “major” law and order problem in Uttar Pradesh, sentiment and persuasion should be used.

Since the mahant is a Thakur, the government’s political managers used every Thakur heavyweight in their stable to work on him. Even external affairs minister Jaswant Singh, who has always distanced himself from the Ayodhya issue, was asked to appeal to Paramhans.

The former Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Rajnath Singh, was in touch with him.

When their efforts did not make headway, Atal Bihari Vajpayee requested former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar to speak to the mahant. Apart from being a Thakur, Chandra Shekhar, like Paramhans, belongs to eastern Uttar Pradesh.

The “Thakur bonding” was also apparent in the presence of the Central emissary, Shatrughan Singh, as the receiver of the “shilas” from Paramhans.

The other argument that forced the VHP climbdown was the intelligence feedback that ISI saboteurs and Kashmir militants could infiltrate Ayodhya in the guise of pilgrims. There were also inputs that the BJP’s political adversaries might create trouble.

“We had definite information that the ISI was out to take advantage of the situation. We were not so fearful of the VHP creating trouble as the ISI. After all, how much trouble could the VHP have caused? At the most, its activists could have attempted to get inside the disputed site, but the rest was a different ball game,” official sources said.

If indeed a terrorist strike took place, the sources said, the VHP leadership conceded that they would not like to be seen as the instigators.

The BJP, which is expected to discuss the Ayodhya happenings shortly, felt that politically there were no gains and losses. A senior partyman said while there is a feeling that Vajpayee has not gone to the extent of Rajiv Gandhi — who had opened the Babri mosque for puja and allowed shilanyas — in “pleasing” the VHP, he has endorsed the parishad’s point of view on the shila puja before the apex court through the attorney-general.

“The AG’s contention that the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas could rightfully do puja on the undisputed land has made the VHP happy. Atalji did it masterfully without making it appear as though it was his government’s stand. The AG’s statement that it was his own view helped him,” the sources said.

The presence of Shatrughan at the shila daan was meant to be a “positive” signal to the VHP. Shatrughan, in charge of the Ayodhya cell, is part of the Cabinet secretariat that is directly under the Prime Minister. The fact that he was sent as a Central emissary was Vajpayee’s way of conveying to the VHP that the shila daan had his blessings.

   

 
 
MUMBAI HAS A BLAST 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Mumbai, March 15: 
The clouds had crept in. The stench of the 1993 blasts hung heavy in the air.

A whole, throbbing city waited silently for two days, afraid lightning would strike any moment if things went just a little bit wrong in distant Ayodhya.

Muslim drivers took their autos off the road. Muslim families left their homes in Worli and went elsewhere. Hindu families, too, vanished from Muslim areas. In dangerous Dharavi, Hindus and Muslims decided to keep vigil and protect each other.

But today, after news from Ayodhya trickled in, Mumbai made the choice: it would be fun, not fear. The city would not let the ghosts of 1993 and the future of Ayodhya wipe the smile from its face.

Or from Aishwarya’s, for that matter.

The actress grinned and lit lamps, inaugurating one of the biggest conventions on entertainment organised by Ficci. At Renaissance Hotel on Powai Lake — the venue of the two-day meet, Frames 2002 — if people were worried about the Ayodhya fallout, few were showing it. Actors and directors sipped cola and munched popcorn. They talked of their next films, their success stories.

No one talked of 10 years ago when Mumbai’s streets were strewn with corpses —victims of the riots that followed the Babri masjid demolition.

No one talked also of the serial blasts triggered by D-Company to avenge the killings of minorities in the riots.

Aishwarya was smiling, and Mumbai was hosting this mega meet. What more to prove that life was normal and going on?

Chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh was there, so was Union information minister Sushma Swaraj. They talked of entertainment, not Ayodhya.

The delegates, including STAR group chief executive officer James Murdoch, meant only one thing: business.

Sparks did fly, but over business. The STAR boss targeted cable operators who, he said, are bleeding broadcasters dry. Murdoch accused them of siphoning off around Rs 2,000 crore of revenue every year by “under-declaring their ever-increasing subscriber base” in the country.

“This is outright copyright theft, obfuscation, stalling and evasion and it needs to be stamped out,” Murdoch said.

When Swaraj spoke, she shared Murdoch’s concerns -- not the VHP’s. The minister promised to make the “conditional access system” mandatory to make sure that the cable operators did not rip off the broadcasters.

Murdoch asked the operators “to get their act together” and legitimise their business. “They have to learn to adopt to international business practices and work hand in hand with the broadcasters instead of opposing them.”

No one talked also of the serial blasts triggered by D-Company to avenge the killings of minorities in the riots.

Aishwarya was smiling, and Mumbai was hosting this mega meet. What more to prove that life was normal and going on?

Chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh was there, so was Union information minister Sushma Swaraj. They talked of entertainment, not Ayodhya.

The delegates, including STAR group chief executive officer James Murdoch, meant only one thing: business.

Sparks did fly, but over business. The STAR boss targeted cable operators who, he said, are bleeding broadcasters dry.

Murdoch accused them of siphoning off around Rs 2,000 crore of revenue every year by “under-declaring their ever-increasing subscriber base” in the country.

“This is outright copyright theft, obfuscation, stalling and evasion and it needs to be stamped out,” Murdoch said.

When Swaraj spoke, she shared Murdoch’s concerns — not the VHP’s. The minister promised to make the “conditional access system” mandatory to make sure that the cable operators did not rip off the broadcasters.

Murdoch asked the operators “to get their act together” and legitimise their business.

“They have to learn to adopt to international business practices and work hand in hand with the broadcasters instead of opposing them.”

No one — even once — mentioned the Paramhans.

   

 
 
ATTA’S STUDENT VISA APPROVED 6 MONTHS AFTER SEPTEMBER 11 
 
 
FROM K.P.NAYAR
 
Washington, March 15: 
It is an incident fit for Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!

Half a year after terrorist ring-leader Mohamed Atta and his associate Marwan Al Shehhi turned air planes into flying bombs and destroyed New York’s World Trade Centre, the flight school which trained them for the world’s most spectacular act of terror has received approval for their visas from US immigration authorities.

The embarrassing foul-up occurred exactly on the day when all of America was observing the sombre half-year point since the September 11 attack on New York and Washington.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said today that President George W Bush was “very displeased”, found the action of the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) “unacceptable” and had asked homeland security director Tom Ridge to “get to the bottom of this”.

But for Rudi Dekkers, owner of Huffman Aviation International, the flight school in Florida where Atta and Al Shehhi received the training, it was vindication at last.

Huffman Aviation had been criticised since September 11 for having trained the two Arab men for a fee of $27,300 each.

More so, since their student visas had not ostensibly been cleared, although rules allow for flight training even as immigration papers are pending with authorities. Dekkers told reporters yesterday:

“It is very strange. I have no idea why it took so long”.

The two terrorists, who entered the US on tourist visas, had applied for their student visas through Huffman in August 2000. INS officials said the change to student visas for the two men were actually approved last summer — Atta’s on July 17 and Al Shehhi’s on August 9.

But because of backlogs and an outdated processing system at the INS, the approval papers reached Huffman only on Monday. The officials rationalised their decision by saying, “when the applications were approved, the INS had no information indicating that Atta or Al Shehhi had ties to terrorist organisations”.

The incident caused mayhem on Capitol Hill yesterday with angry Congressmen and Senators demanding action against those responsible for this highly sensitive mistake on the day when Americans were remembering the dead at the World Trade Centre and at the Pentagon.

For Republican Congressman, James Sensenbrenner Jr., who is campaigning to break up the INS, this was fodder he was looking for.

“This shows once again the complete incompetence of the immigration service to enforce our laws and protect our borders,” he said.

Another Republican Congressman, Tom Tancredo, who heads a Congressional Caucus which is fighting to reduce immigration, said: “The INS is the Mickey Mouse Club of federal agencies, but this actually would indicate that is an insult to Mickey Mouse.” Senator Edward Kennedy, the patriarch of Democrats, who has sponsored legislation to upgrade technology at the INS and close loopholes in its immigration procedures, said: “We cannot continue to tolerate a flawed information collection and tracking system that allows potential terrorists to enter or remain in the United States.”

The foul-up may come as a relief to those who were responsible for similar mistakes in India, which were, by comparison, far less serious.

Some years ago, the Regional Passport Office in Delhi sent a passport to Sonia Gandhi’s 10, Janpath, address in the capital in response to a false application filed by someone as a prank. Similarly, a Delhi newspaper sent its reporter to the Transport Authority’s office in the capital to apply for a driving licence in the name of K R Narayanan when he was Vice-President.

The licence with the Vice-President’s official home address and his name was promptly issued after the reporter paid a bribe.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 34.5°C (+1)
Minimum: 22.4°C (+1)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Max: 84%
Min: 30%

Sunrise: 5.49 am

Sunset: 5.42 pm

Today:

Generally cloudy sky. Possibility of light rain, accompanied by thunder in some areas
   
 

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